Nick Pike
Nick Pike 24 July 2017

Digital transformation requires new technology, new processes, a culture change – and a little sprinkling of magic!

Legacy technology is on the verge of collapse as new pressures to digitise services are causing strain to businesses of all sizes, in all industries. In order to transform successfully, organisations must undergo a culture shift as well as a shift in technology.

Right now, many legacy business models are on the verge of collapse or under severe strain from digital pressures coming from both inside and outside the business. And where many organisations are concerned, if there isn’t a programme in place to replace legacy systems (and processes) with innovative new digital platforms, then you can be sure that there will be soon.

The problem is you can’t just switch legacy off. It would be great if there was a magic button that we could simply press to take away the headache that legacy often represents, especially with large transformation programmes, but of course it is not that easy.

The crucial point we need to remind ourselves about, with regard to many of these legacy applications, is that they work. They may not be particularly pretty, easy to use, easy to change, or indeed agile by today’s standards, but legacy is inherited and there's a lot of goodness in many of these applications. While legacy modernisation and transformation is most certainly challenging, it represents a challenge we have to have the courage to address.  Otherwise when we approach digital initiatives we may be in danger of ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’.

Likewise, to fully transform digitally, organisations must undergo a cultural shift as well as a shift or change in their technology infrastructure. Digital transformation can also be a bit of a political minefield depending on how well different departments work together and how their individual key performance indicators complement or conflict.  This is one of the reasons that direction and buy in for any digital programme has to come from the top. The decision to transform must come from the senior players in the business who can also create a unified company vision - championed by the board it should align various goals to steer everyone in the same direction towards the same end result. I don’t believe that you can outsource this direction – both the senior management team and the workforce are core to the success of any digital programme so the key is to get them engaged and working together – and to do this as early on as possible.

Equally, to ensure that digitisation is accepted at every level of the organisation, education is also necessary to help create a tech-ready and savvy digital workforce with access to all of the technology it requires to perform tasks effectively.  Unfortunately, there's no such thing as magic in this process either, the business will not magically transform on its own. However, when it comes to leadership and change (and this is especially true when technology comes into play) we are often guilty of having an almost childlike belief in the magical properties of the latest new idea or innovation.

The cultural shift required won’t happen overnight.  There are lots of elements to consider. For example, how an organisation is structured and operates. New methods of working will need to be adopted and some folks will naturally adapt quickly and others – the digital laggards - will be much slower and could disrupt programmes of work if they are not on board.

There will be a degree of experimentation, and this experimentation needs to happen in a blame-free culture with no finger pointing. Taking risks and accepting small errors will help the business and teams to learn.  This will also involve a different approach to development where IT teams not only think digital and mobile first but they also have the kind of set up, tools and platforms that allow them to develop fast and change just as quickly.  This means the culture in the development team must also change from big bang approaches to smaller iterations being released into the field more regularly than before – sometimes as quickly as every two or three weeks.

That said, I often hear people talk about "going for the low hanging fruit and quick wins”.  However, be warned there's a two-fold danger here; the first is that doing the easy stuff doesn't actually prepare you for tackling the more difficult stuff, and second, once you've trained your customers to expect a fabulous cadence of delivery it's a bit awkward when you have to go to them and explain that now the low-hanging fruit is all gone they're going to have to wait a long time for the next improvement.

Digital transformation initiatives that shy away from the hard stuff are simply postponing pain and disappointment. Of course it's important to create a cadence of delivery as we need to create trust and establish a track-record, but for every low hanging challenge you take on you should be looking at kicking off at least one high-hanging challenge at the same time. Refacing a website is low-hanging, redesigning a process from end-to-end is more challenging. While the former will be delivered quickly and is likely to provoke much delight, it's the latter initiative that is most likely to deliver sustainable transformation.

So, lots to consider and even though I said that technology is not magical, it does have a role to play. This is where low-code platforms are helping organisations to get ahead in their transformation plans.  Let me share an example. OutSystems enabled Worcestershire County Council to transform into a world-class digital council which resulted in a financial ROI of 442%. Involving cloud, mobile and analytics, in the next year, it will deliver 100 percent of its services online. Customers can now access council services anytime, anywhere, and substantial cost savings are being delivered.  And thanks to OutSystems, digital solutions are now being provided three times faster, using the same amount of resources, while reducing the cost of supporting these new applications by 50%.

Did I say there was no magic in this?  Perhaps just a little sprinkling of pixie dust!


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